National Student Survey 2014

Well if the second week of August wasn’t  busy enough already, with A-level results and the onset of clearing, then just to give something else for HE wonks and award leaders to think about, along comes this year’s National Student Survey results.

NSS-results-2014-letterbox (1)

As HEFCE announce, student satisfaction has risen nationally once again, with 86% of students saying they are satisfied and “satisfaction has either improved since 2013 or stayed the same in each of the seven categories covered by the survey”.

Professor Madeleine Atkins, HEFCE Chief Executive, said:

‘I’m delighted to see record levels of student satisfaction this year, as well as marked improvements in satisfaction with assessment and feedback over the last decade.

‘The NSS is the largest survey of its kind in the UK. Over the last 10 years it has helped over 2 million students to make their voices heard about the things that matter to them, and has been fundamental to driving change in our universities and colleges.

‘In a period of technological advance, internationalisation and funding reforms, the NSS will continue to enable students’ views to be heard and to stimulate innovation and excellence in teaching and learning in our universities and colleges.’

HEFCE also provide links to recent review of the NSS which considers how effective the current survey is and makes recommendations for changes, primarily around adding questions on “student engagement”.  The report also talks about methodological issues related to the use of the survey, stating:

The NSS results can be used responsibly in the following ways with proper caution:

  • To track the development of responses over time
  • To report absolute scores at local and national levels
  • To compare results with agreed internal benchmarks
  • To compare the responses of different student groups, including equity target groups
  • To make comparisons, with appropriate vigilance and knowledge of statistical variance, between programmes in the same subject area at different institutions
  • To help stimulate change and enhance dialogue about teaching and learning.

However, they cannot be used responsibly in these ways:

  • To compare subject areas, e.g. Art & Design vs. Engineering, within an institution unless adjustments are made for typical subject area differences nationally
  • To compare scores on different aspects of the student experience (between different scales, e.g. assessment vs. teaching) in an unsophisticated way
  • To compare whole institutions without taking account of sources of variation such as subject mix and student characteristics
  • To construct league tables of programmes or institutions that do not allow for the fact that the majority of results are not materially different.

Academics and other commentators  have long been critical of the usefulness of the NSS, and on publication, HEFCE asked via Twitter whether it was fit for purpose….


The Times Higher ran an article on views from the sector on the usefulness of the NSS, which claimed that one lecturer at a university in the West of England described the NSS as “about as scientifically useful as TripAdvisor is for travellers”.

Nonetheless, it is the instrument we currently have, and so for the coming year as an institution we will be looking at our results and how to use them effectively.

At institutional level we have seen another improvement – just like the sector overall, we improve on a yearly basis.


While acknowledging the difficulties of comparing dissimilar subjects, it’s relatively easy for us to benchmark subject groups against other institutions using the full data-set from HEFCE.

We will also look at those individual awards that appear as outliers in our results – those awards that gained 100% overall satisfaction (I can’t name them all as not all the data can be used publicly) should be a source of ideas to those whose results were outliers at the other end of the scale.

Staff employed at HEFCE-funded HEIs

HEFCE have just released data on characteristics of staff employed at UK HEIs, with a nifty little interactive tool to allow you to plot the graphs. Sadly it doesn’t;t allow you to add multiple categories together or anything truly interactive,but there are some inetrestign (and in some case, I guess, inevitable) results.

If we look at gender, then the more senior you are, and the higher up the pay scale, the more likely you are to be male. this applies in senior leadership roles, but also in academic roles.


If we look at ethnicity, then the higher up the greasy pole, the more likely you are to be white.


For those universities who are working toward the Equality Challenge Unit Race Equality Charter Mark, or indeed initiatives such as Athena Swan, then it might be interesting to consider recruitment and development policies and institutional results against the national trend, otherwise as a sector we are likely to reinforce the image of senior roles being for middle aged white guys (disclaimer – I am one).

To really get a better reflection, then an individual institution could compare its gender and ethnicity profile against both the general population and also against its local and student population. Certainly from a point of view of BME student attainment, there is often a significant difference in the diversity mix of the staff who lead and teach in universities and the student body.

For another view on these results, have a look at the registrarism blog by Paul Greatrix.

Graduate Employability -ideas from Kaplan

A recent White Paper from Kaplan looks at the results of a survey of 198 employers who were asked about graduate recruitment and considers the implications and offers
practical advice and opinion around three key areas: recruitment, competency and learning and development.

Considering recruitment, 76% of employers continue to look for graduates and: “Employers also look to their graduate intake to provide future leaders,  and 60% of those surveyed believe that one in every two graduates  will go on to become just that.” Also, the report notes that: ” The Kaplan survey identified that 75% of employers found it  either moderately or very difficult to find the right graduates”.

The report also indicates an increasing level of interest in apprenticeships, noting that ” the reason employers are exploring non-graduate recruitment  is diversity. Employers want to ensure they recruit a wide range of  individuals and not just graduates. A diverse workforce provides some  degree of flexibility and can help with customer/client relationships.”

Apprenticeships are also seen as being a way of solving the problem of competence.

Employers were surveyed on the competences they expect from graduates, and the results make interesting reading.


Numeracy is second! I’ve highlighted this – numeracy is the second most important competence that employers want.

The bottom 5 competences were: Decisive, Leadership, Assertiveness, Critical Thinker and Technical Expertise.

The core skills that are valued at recruitment, an 2 years later are summarised below;


Once again analytical skills are reported highly.

The report goes on to talk about employability, and how universities might support development of employability skills, noting that ” a recent YouGov survey (2013) of 613 employers (including 419 directly responsible for recruiting graduates) found
that just under one in five businesses believes graduates are ready for work. It also revealed that more than half of employers said all or almost all graduate recruits started work without vital attributes, such as team-work, communication, punctuality and the ability to cope under pressure.”

Recognising that employability is key for employers (and it should be key for those universities that focus on such things) then Kaplan suggest: “Perhaps the answer is an employability qualification. Students enrol on a separate course that offers, on completion, a formally recognised qualification. But who should offer this? Whether it’s the employer,
universities or schools is a question requiring wider debate.”


A useful addition to the plethora of information available about graduate employability.

I think 2 things really stand out, and are areas that universities have in their power to address.

Firstly, numeracy and analytical skills : how many universities have developed statements on graduate attributes or on graduate skills which do not include this? I would guess most of them! In previous blog posts I’ve referred to the need for students to be numerate in their degrees, and the need for people to be able to understand and manipulate data. This could be an opportunity for an institution to really differentiate itself.

Secondly, a stand-alone qualification is potentially desirable, provided that it is actually meaningful, and not just a tick box exercise. Students would need to understand why a separate qualification was necessary. Alternatively, providers would need to create much clearer signposting for all students on how transferable employability skills are being developed throughout the degree course (the use of Mozilla open badges might be useful here).